I remember that I quickly had to learn not to overly rely on Patreon for pretty much anything. Patreon itself mostly functions as a convenient way to process payments and bulking creator content for membership that encourages cross support for fans of niche genres.
I can do small things on Patreon, like polls and feedback posts and small tidbits of art, but early on I was trying to do too much strictly on Patreon, to focus on the people that support me on Patreon, through the site they support me on. Flooding peoples mailboxes with single pictures when I should have really been bulking them up for weekly distribution, but Patreon isn’t very good at this and your options are limited in how you present this work if you go this method.
Unfortunately as a digital artist who puts out a lot of content and works on large projects, Patreon is really inefficient at supporting the type of work I do. It’s also really inefficient at giving that content to my supporters in a lot of ways. For instance, as a fan of digital art, when I sub to a new person, I don’t even bother looking at their backlog. It’s impossible. Patreon loads single posts 10 at a time and some artists I follow have thousands of posts. That’s a ton of content, and on any other site it would be a huge benefit to subscribing to see it, but on Patreon, after paying to see someones work, it is more of a pain to view all of that content than it is fun to look at it.
I just have to hope that one day they package it all up into a zip file, or throw it onto a site that has gallery browsing features (where I can just click a next image and look at images).
I had to find alternatives to present my work like one-drive and alternative art galleries. You could build a website for this with patreon api integration, but you’ll need knowledge or resources to get that done, and it is an investment. These days I post my art in packages on One-Drive (which has a nice file/image browser built-in), then after a couple months I post all of the art publicly on sites that are much easier to browse and designed for showing art and video content.
Same goes for the game project I’m working on, Patreon has no project features at all for multi-user support. If you are running or part of a project you need to take into account that you will either have to share accounts, or maybe pledge to the project you are working on. In order to respond to user comments and offer support I have to pledge $25 to my own project every month so that I can see comments posted on the project I’m working on. I still don’t get notifications on this project, so I have to remember to check our latest posts to answer questions.
Most of our project development doesn’t involve patreon at all either, we don’t upload our game builds to patreon directly (file size not supported), we don’t communicate exclusively on Patreon (discord, telegram, and google document project files), and we have to advertise on other sites because Patreon cannot be the central operating point of whatever fandom you’re building.
Which leads me to my next point, you have to keep in mind when starting a Patreon is that you really need a prior fanbase. Patreon isn’t there to sell you, you have to sell yourself in another community first. You need to have something to offer people first. Patreon will not sell you or promote you, and if you make adult content they won’t even acknowledge you exist through the in-site navigation.
Putting a $5 Patreon up that only your grandma is subscribed to is going to discourage new people from pledging. Each person trickling in and seeing a dead campaign. I would say it’s more damaging to have a dead campaign than it is to have no campaign. Whether it’s true or not, it signals that something about your campaign is wrong, and no one else has found it worth it to support you. Building something, and then starting big encourages people to jump in on the project.
I know when I go to a new campaign and I see $1k+ or 200+ supporters, I know there is probably something wroth subscribing to here, and when I see numbers hovering lower than $100, I wonder if the person is new or if the campaign was abandoned and just functions as an elaborate tip-jar.
I guess my overall advice would be that if you aren’t a success without Patreon, Patreon probably won’t change that. They’re an elaborate mailing list/paypal subscription, things you could setup yourself if you had a reason to. That isn’t saying much for Patreon I suppose, but it’s an area they could improve.
Some personal/emotional thoughts on starting up, I realized that people are largely supporting you for a combination of reasons, but your strongest supporters are usually doing it because they like you as a personality. A combination of the things you do and who you are, and not just for the content you make. Those supporters are your strongest ones and they’ll be with you through most obstacles.
If you are short one small community reward every month, they’ll forgive it. If you aren’t feeling the way you do content or the stress involved with a reward you offer, they’ll understand. If you disaster strikes and you can’t do something they are usually more than willing to forgive if you are open an honest about why and what your plans are.
It’s not something you should take advantage of, but it’s something you should remember when you are doing something small that you are worried will make your supporters turn on you.
And speaking as someone who supports a lot of people and has a lot of supporters, most people won’t personally get upset if you miss some small things. They don’t notice the small things because they have their own lives to worry about and as long as you don’t make a habit out of missing things, they’ll understand you’re human.
If you need to alter a campaign to keep up, drop tiers, change rewards - all of those are not just fine to do, they are expected from people in the long run. Part of building a campaign is learning from it and making adjustments, that’s how any successful project/business/person makes it to the end. Don’t be scared to shake things up, and in my experience, embrace it. Changing things up isn’t just more interesting as a creator, but it can be fun for your supporters as well.